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Autumn 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
Missing the Point
Banning sharp kitchen knives won’t cut Britain’s violent crime.
2 June 2005

Violent crime continues to increase in Britain, by 17 percent last year alone. Stabbing is particularly fashionable, and up to a quarter of British 16-year-olds now claim to carry knives whenever they leave home, and to be prepared to use them. That is apparently what the Scouting motto, “Be Prepared,” now means to British children.

An anxious editorial in the British Medical Journal, penned by three emergency room doctors, offers a partial solution to the problem: ban the sale of kitchen knives with pointed ends. Such points serve for nothing, from the culinary point of view (the authors consulted several eminent chefs); but they sometimes inflict fatal wounds in the course of domestic arguments.

Of course, the prohibition of private gun ownership after the school massacre at Dunblane in Scotland—comparatively easy to enforce—has done nothing to reduce the incidence of gun crime, unless one alleges that the incidence would have been even higher without it. And even the authors of the proposal admit that, if implemented, it would be some time before the ban would reduce fatal impulsive stabbings in the home, since the average life of pointed kitchen knives is ten years, and it is hardly practicable to announce an amnesty and call in those already in existence. Given the ease both of importing and manufacturing such knives, any effective prohibition would entail a police state of North Korean intensity: all to save what are still, even in these violent times, comparatively few lives.

The authors of the editorial do not ask (let alone answer) what proportion of knife crime in Britain is committed with the points of kitchen knives; but even more startling is their utter lack of curiosity about the social context of knife-carrying (and increasingly, usage) by youths in Britain. Since it is likely that even now there are whole areas of the country where youths do not carry knives, there must be areas where most, perhaps all, do. At the very least, it would be interesting to know the character of social conditions and family relations in those areas; but in the way that one has come to expect of members of the British intelligentsia and professional classes, the authors delicately avoid mentioning the matter, fearful of giving offense or exposing the falsity of favorite presuppositions. Toujours la politesse.

The only historical evidence that the authors cite pertains to the seventeenth century. They mention, for example, that Louis XIV forbade pointed knives at table to avoid fatal denouements of drunken squabbles. Reference to the remote rather than to the comparatively recent past (when few, if any, British children carried knives) is another typical mental maneuver of the British intelligentsia to avoid embarrassing or unorthodox thoughts. The editorial is the typical product of an elite incapable of examining, let along solving, the problems confronting its society. Decadent is the word.

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